Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP), Kissi Agyebeng has cited a member of the Council of State, Ms. Eunice Jacqueline Buah Asomah-Hinneh and some top officials of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) in an act of corruption that resulted in the loss of revenue to the state.
According to Special Prosecutor’s report, a company owned by the Council of State member has been fished out for corruption leading to a recovery of over GH¢1.074 million by the OSP.
Labianca Company Limited, owned by a member of the Council of State, Ms Eunice Jacqueline Buah Asomah-Hinneh was investigated by OSP for alleged corruption and corruption related offences in the context of evasion and valuation of duties on frozen and processed food products imported into Ghana between 2017-2021.
The case, according to the OSP involved some high-ranking officials of the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), a State Owned Institution.
According to the OSP’s corruption report the “Labianca Company Limited commenced operations in 2014 and it is wholly owned and controlled by Ms. Asomah-Hinneh on all practical and legal considerations. The company, it appears, imports about two hundred (200) forty (40) footer shipping containers of frozen chicken parts, fish, pork and fries monthly primarily from Europe and the United States of America. It enjoys a substantial market share in the imported frozen foods industry.”
The Special Prosecutor again said, “There was not much engagement with the Customs Division in the first three (3) years of the company’s operations beyond the settlement of standard customs duty and other tax obligations until 2017 when the company actively commenced applications to the Customs Division for the acceptance by the latter of the values of frozen foods it intended to import.
The Report added that, “By the time the company commenced the applications, Ms. Asomah-Hinneh had been elected a member of the Council of State representing the Western Region and appointed a member of the governing board of Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority – positions she held at all material times. On this reckoning, Ms. Asomah-Hinneh is a politically exposed person as defined under section 79 of Act 959.”
In an investigative report, the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) accused Ms. Asomah-Hinneh of influence-peddling for allegedly using her position as a member of the Council of State and member of the Board of Directors of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) to get a favourable decision from the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), which led to a reduction in the tax liabilities of Labianca Limited.
Influence-peddling or trading of influence is a form of corruption in which a person uses his or her position or political influence to gain unmerited favours.
The OSP faulted a Deputy Commissioner of Customs in charge of Operations, Joseph Adu Kyei, for issuing what it described as unlawful customs advance ruling which reduced the benchmark values of the frozen foods imported by Labianca Limited, thereby reducing the company’s tax obligations to the state, reports Graphic Online’s Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson.
“The OSP finds that there is strong evidence to suggest that Mr Kyei’s decision to issue a customs advance ruling for the applicant was procured through influence peddling or trading of influence by Ms Asomah-Hinneh by employing her position as a member of the Council of State and member of the Board of Directors of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA), the report, signed by the Special Prosecutor, Kissi Agyebeng, stated.
The OSP has also called for wider investigations into Customs Division of the GRA and demanded for a copy of Integrity plans to prevent corruption.
Kissi Agyeneng said, on 16 November 2021, the Office of the Special Prosecutor (hereafter, OSP) received a written complaint from one Frank Asare against Labianca Group of Companies and its subsidiaries (hereafter, Labianca) and the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (hereafter, Customs Division).
The complainant alleged ongoing corrupt, illegal and questionable dealings between Labianca and the Customs Division resulting in unlawful markdown or reduction of benchmark values of frozen food products imported by Labianca
under the guise of customs advance rulings.
According to the complainant, the unlawful markdowns or reductions of benchmark values were procured and being procured chiefly because the beneficial owner and Chief Executive of Labianca, Ms. Eunice Jacqueline Buah Asomah-Hinneh engages in influence
peddling through her positions as a member of the Council of State and a
member of the Board of Directors of Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority.
The complainant contended that Labianca has gained undue competitive market
advantage in the frozen foods industry by reason of the alleged corrupt and other
unlawful dealings. It was also alleged that the same undue competitive market
advantage had been secured for supposed subsidiaries of Labianca – Rafano Frozen Foods Company Limited and Yoba Capital Limited.
The Special Prosecutor, upon determining that the complaint was within the
mandate of the OSP, authorized the commencement of preliminary investigation into the matter in accordance with regulation 5 of the Office of the Special Prosecutor (Operations) Regulations, 2018 (L.I. 2374).
The preliminary investigation was conducted with as little intrusion into the privacy of individuals and the business operations of the cited companies as the circumstances permitted.
The report said, Labianca, being the main subject of the investigation, was directed to submit the following documents covering the period 2017 – 2021 in accordance with section 29 of the Office of the Special Prosecutor Act, 2017 (Act 959) and regulation 10 of L.I. 2374.
Below is the investigative report, dated August 3, 2022, is titled: “Report of Investigation into Alleged Commission of Corruption and Corruption Related Offences involving Labianca Group of Companies and the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority.